As a member of the University of Nevada boxing team, Reno's Joey Gilbert slugged his way to three national championships. Now the 29-year-old attorney will be looking to win his first belt as a professional.
Gilbert (10-1 with 7 knockouts) will face Jimmy Lange (26-2-1, 18) in a 12-round contest for the North American Boxing Organization middleweight championship on Feb. 18, at the Patriot Center, in Fairfax, Va.
The pair first fought on the NBC reality show "The Contender," with Gilbert overcoming a hamstring injury to take a unanimous five-round decision on Sept. 7, 2004.
Mark Schopper, Gilbert's law partner and publicist, said Tuesday that the winner likely will be ranked in the WBO's top 10.
"I'm excited. It's an unbelievable opportunity," said Gilbert, who is coming off a six-round win over James North. "I think it's a great fight."
It will also mark the first time Gilbert will be fighting in a bout scheduled for more than six rounds.
"It's going to be a different Jimmy Lange than I fought on The Contender," Gilbert said. "That was a five-round sprint. This will be a 12-round marathon. But I'm not too worried about my conditioning. It's more about honing my skills. I'm eager to show what I've been learning. I look forward to stepping it up."
Gilbert said he's resting the hand he injured against North while at the same time staying in condition through roadwork, plyometrics and strength training. He will also be returning to Afghanistan, where he will once again be a part of an entertainment tour for United States troops.
"I had committed to going to Afghanistan before this (fight) came up," said Gilbert, who will leave on Dec. 26 and stay in the war-torn country for around 10 days. "There's no way I'm going to cancel on the guys over there. It would be wrong to do that to them."
There is, however, a limit on how much contact Gilbert will have with the troops this trip.
"I'm not going to be lining guys up (to spar) this time," said Gilbert, who sparred 10 soldiers a night for six shows when he visited Afghanistan last year. "I learned my lesson. This time I'll be putting on a boxing clinic, not actually boxing."
From there it will be on to St. Petersburg, Fla., where Gilbert will begin his six-week camp with Dan Birmingham, who trains IBF super middleweight champion Jeff Lacy and No. 1-ranked middleweight Winky Wright.
In spite of engaging in a give-and-take slugfest the first time around with the 30-year-old Lange, of Great Falls, Va., Gilbert said he's not entering the fight with a grudge.
"I have nothing against Jimmy. He's a great competitor," Gilbert said. "It will be a great fight. The competitive edge inside of me is my real motivation. That and having (Gilbert's ex-promoter) Gary Shaw saying I don't have any skill."
Shaw and Gilbert split last week after Shaw said Gilbert was negotiating fights behind his back, something Gilbert denied. Shaw also sniped at Gilbert's talent, which he had previously touted.
"(Shaw) wanted to sign me to a three-year contract the week before, now he says I have no skill," Gilbert said. "Everyone's telling me, 'You can't do it. You can't go six rounds.' I love it. Tell me what I can't do. Please. It's the ultimate motivation. They say I can't step up. Keep that four-letter word (can't) coming."
Gilbert also kept open the possibility that if he can defeat Lange, he might look into facing another former Contender - Yerington's Jesse Brinkley - in Reno next summer.
"But Jesse has to be nice," Gilbert said. "He can't keep on making up false accusations in the media or I won't give him a shot."
In an interview with the Nevada Appeal last October, Brinkley accused Gilbert, who acted as his publicist, of not delivering on certain financial promises, among other things.
"It's never been about the money," Gilbert said of his motivation to fight Brinkley. "Just play fair. Be nice and we can bring a big fight to Reno for the fans. It makes business sense. We always told each other we'd give one another a shot. We'll see."
Against Lange, Gilbert faces a fighter who is as tall as he is - both are 5-foot-11 - but Gilbert is of slightly larger stature. Lange, who turned pro in 1998, is a natural 154-pounder, while Gilbert has competed in the 160-168 range.
Both have fought twice since their last meeting, but Gilbert has had only one bout since September 2004 - against North - while Lange fought twice in 2005. He defeated former Contender Tarick Salmaci in May and is coming off a four-round TKO of 17-0 Perry Ballard, a bout in which he won the WBE light middleweight belt.
Based on their first meeting Gilbert said he knows what he's up against with Lange.
"It was a very competitive fight and I expect that again," Gilbert said. "Jimmy wants redemption. He has the edge in experience. He's gone 10 rounds. (People) will use that to say why I can't do it.
"But history books are not filled with stories of common men. They're filled with stories of men who do outstanding things. I will win. That's my mountain to climb. And I will climb it."
n Contact Mike Houser at firstname.lastname@example.org